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Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity [Aka: Radio-Aktivität] CD (album) cover




Progressive Electronic

3.18 | 202 ratings

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3 stars Following the massive and somewhat unexpected international success of Autobahn, Kraftwerk were under pressure to promote their work and to record a follow up. They recruited the fourth member of their classic line up, classically trained percussionist Karl Bartos (who would subsequently make significant contributions as a composer), toured extensively, particularly in the USA, and then returned to work on their next album. Radioactivity is half a great Kraftwerk album, which works on a number of levels but which would have benefited from more time to work on the material.

Tracks 1 - 6 took up side 1 of the original vinyl release, and this is an extended sequence of songs that is on a par with anything else they have done. The album starts with the sound of a geiger counter gradually speeding up, some sinister electronic distortions and the sound of electronically treated footsteps running away. Then we're into the title track, one of Kraftwerk's deceptively simple electro pop anthems. A morse code message is tapped out, then the first sung line is 'Radioactivity is in the air for you and me', a line which is to take on darker ramifications. This is followed up by the minimal, yearning Radioland, a hymn to the power of short wave radio (a highly important means of communication across borders in the days of the iron curtain) with a simple electronic beat and a skeletal synth melody. Kraftwerk's background in musique concrete pays dividends here; sounds from short wave radio are weaved into most of this album, but nowhere more effectively than on this track, which also provides the human heart that beats somewhere on every Kraftwerk release. This segues into the glorious upbeat Airwaves, which is almost a reprise of Autobahn's motorik rhythm and pop sensibility. The first half closes with a collage of news broadcasts about an accident at a nuclear power station - the meaning of 'Radioactivity is in the air for you and me' is given a darker twist.

Unfortunately, the powerful opening 20 minutes is followed by what sound like half realised ideas and filler. The second half of the album contains just two fully realised pieces, Antenna, which hangs around for four minutes although it makes its point in two, and the enjoyable closing piece, Ohm Sweet Ohm - despite their po faced image, Kraftwerk sometimes demonstrated a tongue in cheek sense of humour, which is deployed to great effect here. In between, Radio Stars and Uranium are atmospheric but short on content, while Transistor sounds like a sketch for a piece in the same vein as Airwaves.

Radioactivity is a highly worthwhile album which makes some good points and which contains some first rate material. It's just a pity that they didn't take a little ore time to realise their ideas fully.

Syzygy | 3/5 |


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